Monday 26 February 2018

Hayes happy to miss out on big night as Linfield loom

Hayes is a rare species among his international peers: he’s the only one with a chance of playing in this season’s Champions League. Picture credit: David Maher / Sportsfile
Hayes is a rare species among his international peers: he’s the only one with a chance of playing in this season’s Champions League. Picture credit: David Maher / Sportsfile

John Fallon

Sacrificing his 30th birthday celebrations in Dublin yesterday was something Jonny Hayes didn't mind as he gears up for the first Champions League experience of his career.

The Dubliner has taken the long way round to be part of what he describes the best competition in the world, starting on Friday with a unique occasion at Windsor Park.

Facing Linfield away during the marching season will be daunting enough for most of the Celtic squad, but their only Republic of Ireland international is likely to be treated to a special kind of reception should he be given his competitive debut by Brendan Rodgers.

But Celtic's €1.5m summer signing will happily tolerate stick from the Belfast terraces provided this tricky hurdle is cleared.

Had he remained at Aberdeen or accepted one of the offers he had from English Championship clubs, Hayes could have spent Saturday night in Dublin marking his landmark birthday.

Pummelling

Instead, he was leaving his native city aboard a flight for Glasgow, having scored in a 9-0 pummelling of Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium.

"I'm sure I could have stayed in Dublin for my birthday if I asked the gaffer," said the Ballyfermot man.

"But we've got training on Monday so it was best to head back over to Glasgow."

Hayes, who won his third Ireland cap in the friendly win over Uruguay last month, is a rare species among his international peers: he's the only one with a chance of playing in this season's Champions League.

And, if Celtic get a run in the competition, his prospects of playing in the business-end of Ireland's World Cup qualification campaign will be boosted.

"The Ireland team is flying, so it will be one hell of a job to get into it," he said.

"Quite a few Premier League players are ahead of me in the pecking order but it's up to me to do well for Celtic and see where that takes me.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge."

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